From Barbara O'Neal, beloved author of How to Bake a Perfect Life and The Lost Recipe for Happiness, comes another magical, heartfelt novel--perfect for fans of Kristin Hannah and Susan Wiggs.
After tragedy shatters her small community in Seattle, the Reverend Elsa Montgomery has a crisis of faith. Returning to her hometown of Pueblo, Colorado, she seeks work in a local soup kitchen. Preparing nourishing meals for folks in need, she keeps her hands busy while her heart searches for understanding.
Meanwhile, her sister, Tamsin, as pretty and colorful as Elsa is unadorned and steadfast, finds her perfect life shattered when she learns that her financier husband is a criminal. Enduring shock and humiliation as her beautiful house and possessions are seized, the woman who had everything now has nothing but the clothes on her back.
But when the going gets tough, the tough get growing. A community garden in the poorest, roughest part of town becomes a lifeline. Creating a place of hope and sustenance opens Elsa and Tamsin to the renewing power of rich earth, sunshine, and the warm cleansing rain of tears. While Elsa finds her heart blooming in the care of a rugged landscaper, Tamsin discovers the joy of losing herself in the act of giving--and both women discover that with time and care, happy endings flourish.
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April 17, 2012
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Excerpt from The Garden of Happy Endings by Barbara O'Neal
Six days before she turned her back on God for the third time, Elsa Montgomery went to the harvest festival at her church.
It was a bright orange Saturday in October, possibly the last sunny day of the year. She parked her car beneath an old mon- key tree and let her dog, Charlie, out of the backseat. A long-?legged black rescue with exuberant energy, he knew to mind his manners in crowds, keeping to her right side as they wandered toward the booths and tents set up on the lawn of the Unity church.
Just as they rounded the edge of the fair, ducking beneath the low arms of a pine tree, Elsa caught the scent of rotten apples. For a moment, she thought it came from an earthly cause, an apple that had fallen behind the booths or lay in the thick grass, forgotten in the rush to get everything ready.
There were certainly plenty of apples. Apples in baskets and apples in pies and apples floating in a tub filled with cold water for bobbing. Washington State was one of the premier apple-?growing states in the nation, and local orchards had contributed heavily to the annual church festival.
It took place on the second weekend of October, when the leaves in the Seattle area hung on the trees like construction paper cutouts in shades of red and orange and yellow, and the worst of the winter gloom had not yet set in. The church, a small and humble building that boasted the stained glass art of a now-?famous former parishioner, sat unassumingly in the midst of an arts-?and-?crafts neighborhood, where the houses--?and thus the land the church sat upon--?were commandingly expensive even after the real estate debacle.
The harvest committee rented booths to local farmers and craftspeople. It attracted a cheerful crowd of well-?tended parents, their scrubbed children, and obligatory golden retrievers. The families played games and ate caramel apples and plumped up the church coffers better than any other single thing they did every year.
Elsa loved the fundraiser. It had been one of the first things she had created upon her arrival here as minister nine years ago. This year, the sun was shining, but the air was sharp enough that she wore a pink wool sweater and a pair of jeans with boots. She'd left her hair, crazy as it was, loose and curly on her shoulders, and she walked along the tables that were set up outside. Tents were erected over them, just in case.
As she moved down the center aisle, again she smelled the sulfurous odor of rotten apples. Insistent, dark. She paused, recognizing the warning.
Something was coming. Something dark and wicked.
She turned in a slow circle, looking for clues. Apples of ten varieties spilled out of baskets, along with pumpkins and squashes and piles of freshly baked bread. In the face-?painting booth, Kiki Peterson carefully painted dragons on the face of a little girl wearing a fairy tutu. Next to them was a table set up to serve crepes made by Jordan Mariano, a vegetarian chef who attended the church. The menu offered roasted pumpkin and tomato crepes, apples and sugar, or classic chocolate and cream. Nothing seemed amiss. No one who looked out of place. No--?
Elsa turned, still half seeking. A tall man dressed in khakis and a gold shirt strode toward her. He was a member of the finance committee.
"How are you, George?"
"You have a minute, Rev? I want to talk to you about the shortfall in fundraising last week."
"Let's talk about that at the meeting on Wednesday, shall we?" She peered over his shoulder, seeking a possible escape. "It's on the agenda--?"
"But I don't think the committee is taking it seriously."
She touched his arm. "That may be, but let's enjoy this beautiful day and talk about it on Wednesday."
"Excuse me." She headed toward a bent old man sitting in the sunshine. "How are you, Eddie?"
He turned his nearly blind eyes toward her, wispy white hair springing out in Einstein fashion around his head. "If I was any better, I'd already be in heaven."
She let him take her hand, and squeezed it. "Glad to hear it. How are the new digs?"
"Fine, fine. I have me a cat and some television, so what more does a man need, huh?"
He was eighty-?nine, suffering from terminal cancer, asthma, high blood pressure, and crippling arthritis, but he put his love in things beyond himself, and that kept his spirits high. "I'm glad to hear it. I'll be over to see the new place sometime this week, and we'll say a blessing. How's that?"
A trio of girls in plaid shorts and T-?shirts swirled over. "Reverend Elsa, we made you some dragonfly wings!" The smallest of the trio held up the tissue-?paper-?and-?coat-?hanger wings, pale purple with green and purple glitter. Their faces, too, had been painted with dragons. She looked over to Kiki and winked.
The teenager smiled. "I can paint your face, too, if you want."
"Oh, that would be so pretty!" the smallest of the girls said. She took Elsa's hand and pulled her toward Kiki and the face-?painting booth. "Please, Reverend Elsa?"